Salad Dressing of the Week: Sherry Vinegar and Hazelnut Vinaigrette
sherry vinegar and hazelnut vinaigrette

Last night I was having dinner with some of my favorite lady friends, and we were talking about salad dressings, as you do with your lady friends.  They were saying that they each always make their same standby dressing, and were enjoying this new blog feature to help get out of their ruts.

We shared what each of our quick, don't have to think about it, dressing recipes are, and I had forgotten that for the longest time this one was mine.  The mellow rounded sweetness of the sherry vinegar and the rich roasted nuttiness of the hazelnut oil are a combination that is tough to beat.  It also makes one of my favorite birthday or hostess gifts.  A bottle of each, and perhaps some great salad servers, have yet to make anyone unhappy.

Use this dressing as an excuse to use up any hazelnuts that are left over in your pantry from some long-forgotten holiday cookie recipe.  I love subtly mirroring the dressing in the salad ingredients.

Sherry Vinegar and Hazelnut Vinaigrette
by Catie Baumer Schwalb

1 part sherry vinegar (Get the best you can find.  This is one of those ingredients it does make a difference, and does last a long time.)
3 parts roasted hazelnut oil
salt, to taste

Combine vinegar and salt in a bowl, stirring gently to combine.  In a slow, thin, even stream, drizzle the oil into the vinegar while whisking constantly.  Taste by dipping a salad leaf into the dressing.  Adjust salt, if desired.

Blog-y’s first birthday!

My mother and grandmother, 1951.

Just a year ago today I published my first blog post.  There have been a bunch of changes over the year (including the name and url), but I am so thrilled where I have landed and am so excited for all that is ahead.

In the past twelve months I've published 35+ original recipes, about 15 DIY tutorials, and am just shy of 80 posts--which included a handful of months I needed to be away from my laptop to get our heirloom vegetable micro farm planted, weeded, and thriving.

I have finally managed to set up a Pitchfork Diaries facebook fan page, am no longer intimidated by twitter (@pitchforkdiary), and just this past weekend had an incredibly flattering feature on thekitchn.com.  A splendid way to start year number two.

Thank you so much for all of your invaluable interest and comments.  More delicious days to come.

Some of my favorite posts from the last year...

Homemade Fresh Ricotta

Salad Dressing 101

DIY Flavored Salt

Spicy-Tart Pickled Ramps

Baking with my dad: Craig Baumer's Carrot Cake

Ode to The Minimalist
It was announced yesterday that Mark Bittman's weekly column in the New York Times will end its thirteen year delicious, informative, enthusiastic, and encouraging run.


I have learned many lessons from Mr. Bittman's column.  Starting in 1997, a year after I graduated from college, I cooked recipe after recipe from his writing and suggestions and road maps of seasonal dishes.  His overarching philosophy of don't be intimidated, just get in the kitchen and make good, real food--"It's not rocket science"--is the cornerstone of what I deem most important in the work I do and what I am most trying to impart in this blog.

His article The Well-Dressed Salad Wears Only Homemade in 2006, not only instantly convinced me to remove all store-bought salad dressing from my life, but also started my path of questioning any and all store bought food-stuffs.

He sent my husband and I on a scavenger hunt through winding cobblestoned back streets of Genoa, Italy, and putting Genoa on our itinerary at all, because of his completely intriguing description of the hole-in-the wall greasy spoon, Trattoria Maria, as "one of my favorite restaurants in the world." It ended up being our favorite city of the trip---the trip on which we got engaged.

His coverage of Jim Lahey's no-knead bread technique, sent me, and throngs of other eager cooks, out in search of hearty lidded cast iron cookware (according to the sales person at the Le Creuset outlet in Woodbury Commons: "Are you here because of The Bread?"), and got the country excited about making homemade bread.

I encourage you to go back over his fun, relaxed and heartfelt collection of pieces, and cookbooks (How to Cook Everything, 2,000 Simple Recipes for Great Food) and find some new favorite recipes.

Thank you, Mr. Bittman.  Looking forward to what's next on the menu.

A few of my favorites from the past years, that I return to again and again:

Soto Ayam--Indonesian Chicken Soup with Noodles and Aromatics

Chard Stuffed with Lemon Saffron Risotto and Mozzarella

Chicken Biriyani

101 Simple Salads for the Season

101 Simple Appetizers in 20 Minutes or Less

Almond-Apricot Granola Bars

Green Beans with Sesame Ginger Vinaigrette Recipe
As a follow-up to my previous post about all things salad dressings, here is a recipe for another rock-star of a vinaigrette, following the same formula: 1 part acid + 3 parts oil + seasonings and flavoring ingredients.

This is dynamite tossed with fresh blanched local beans, perhaps adding soba noodles for downright craveable homemade sesame noodles.  But it is also wonderful as a marinade for grilled chicken, beef, or pork, with the acid of the vinegar bringing the added bonus of a great meat tenderizer.

By Catie
Makes approximately ¼ cup

Rice Vinegar, 1 TBS
Garlic, ½ clove, crushed and finely chopped
Fresh Ginger, ½ tsp, grated
Toasted Sesame Oil, 3 TBS
Salt, to taste

Combine the vinegar, garlic and ginger in a bowl, and allow to sit for 10 minutes, to infuse the vinegar with the flavor of the garlic and ginger. Then, while whisking constantly, pour the sesame oil into the bowl in a slow, thin stream. Taste, and adjust salt.

Serve as a dressing for a green salad, tossed with cooked vegetables (green beans, broccoli, carrots, sautéed greens) or as a marinade for grilled meats.


Blanch green beans, by cooking in a pot of boiling, heavily salted, water for a few minutes, until crisp-tender. Immediately remove with a slotted spoon to a bowl of ice water to shock to stop the cooking. Drain and pat dry. Toss with Sesame Ginger Vinaigrette and toasted sesame seeds.

Can combine with noodles, like Japanese buckwheat Soba noodles, for a more substantial dish. Top with slivered scallions and toasted sesame seeds.

Salad Dressing 101

Just about four years ago, Mark Bittman wrote a great piece in the New York Times; A Well-Dressed Salad Wears Only Homemade, and it got me thinkin'.  Why did salad dressings feel like such a mystery?  Why is there usually a huge amount of grocery store real estate devoted to them?  Why are they so darn expensive?

A recent peek at dressings in my grocery store upstate, showed even the cheapest dressings at around $2.50 for an 8 oz bottle, jumping to $3.59 a bottle for something just slightly more natural.  That's $40-57 a gallon--compare that to something like the price at the pump, and it feels like complete lunacy.

The other glaring issue I noticed was that sugar, often in the form of high fructose corn syrup, and WATER, frequently make up two of the first three ingredients.  Again, lunacy.

A few weeks ago I did a cooking demonstration at a local harvest festival.  Showcasing the gorgeous local produce (supplied by Beaver Dam Brook Farm in Ferndale, NY), I did a brief primer on dressings and vinaigrettes.  As I was myself when I first started cooking, many of the audience members at my cooking demos were surprised at how fast and simple it was to make a vinaigrette.  And so much less expensive while eliminating chemicals, emulsifiers, and that big dose of unnecessary sugar.  It seemed crazy that there we were, at a huge farmers' market, a group of people devoted to buying the freshest, least traveled, produce, and yet were not thinking much about then topping that produce with something that was possibly over a year old (when purchased, not to mention the time it has sat on that narrow shelf on the door of your refrigerator), gooey, syrupy, and most likely swimming with ingredients from a factory and not a farm.

So here's the basic formula:

1 part acid + about 3 parts oil + seasonings and flavoring agents

Put the acid in a bowl with the seasonings and flavoring ingredients, if using.  If you have time, allow that to sit for 5-10 minutes to better infuse the vinegar.  Then while whisking continually, pour the oil into the acid, in a slow, steady stream.  The mixture will begin to come together and emulsify.  You can also do the same, a bit quicker, with a fork for a "broken" vinaigrette.  Or make things very easy and put it in a blender, instead of a bowl, in the same order, streaming the oil in the top while the blade is going.  This works particularly well if adding fruit or vegetables for flavor.

Most commonly, extra virgin olive oil is used, but gorgeously flavored hazelnut, walnut, pumpkin seed, and avocado oils are also becoming widely available.  The acid can be lemon juice, lime juice, vinegars (balsamic, white or red wine, sherry, rice, cider) or a combination.  Season with salt and pepper, and flavor with shallot, garlic, mustard, pureed fruit or juice, honey, pureed roasted vegetables, fresh herbs, dried herbs, or ground spices.  One of my favorites is a three-ingredient vinaigrette of lemon juice, sea salt, and hazelnut oil over a green salad with roasted beets.

Experiment with some of these combinations:

olive oil + white wine vinegar + dijon mustard (just a dab), minced shallots and garlic (a classic)

grapeseed oil + rice vinegar + fresh mango (pureed in a blender), season with salt and pepper to taste

olive oil + sherry vinegar + roasted red peppers (again season and puree in a blender)

walnut oil + white wine vinegar + roasted fennel and roasted garlic

olive oil + lime juice + honey and ground cumin

or this Roasted Cherry Tomato Vinaigrette, I posted recently.

The formula is simple, it's not rocket science, you can hardly go wrong, and the options are so much more rewarding than the same-old same-old you'll find on the dusty eye-level shelf at your store.  Do yourself a huge favor, work this into your life.  Experiment, taste, and experiment some more.  Tonight.

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Catie Baumer Schwalb is a chef, food writer and photographer, who splits her life between the city and the country. Not too long ago Catie was a New York City based actress and playwright for more than a decade. She has her Master of Fine Arts from the National Theater Conservatory, and her Grand Diplôme in classic culinary arts from the French Culinary Institute in New York City. ... Read More

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